This week, the Government announced a move to the plan B measures set out in the Autumn and Winter Plan, which I explained back in September and you can read in full HERE.
What has changed?
The government has announced that England will move to Plan B in response to the risks of the Omicron variant.
- From 10 December, face coverings will be required by law in most indoor settings - there will be exemptions in venues where it is not practical to wear one, such as when you are eating, drinking or exercising.
- From 13 December office workers who can work from home are advised to do so.
- From 15 December, certain venues and events will be required by law to check that all visitors aged 18 years or over are fully vaccinated, have proof of a negative test in the last 48 hours, or have an exemption.
As soon as the world learned of the new Omicron variant, the Government acted: introducing targeted and proportionate measures as a precaution, while our scientists discovered more.
We are learning more every day and do not yet know Omicron’s severity, its exact rate of transmission, nor indeed the full effectiveness of our vaccines against it. However, it has become increasingly clear that Omicron is growing much faster than the Delta variant, and it is spreading rapidly all around the world. Over 500 cases have been confirmed through genomic sequencing across every region of the UK, and the true number is certain to be much higher. Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of Omicron in the UK could be currently between two and three days.
While there are some limits to what we can learn from South Africa, not least due to different rates of vaccination and previous infection, we are seeing growth in cases here in the UK that mirrors the rapid increases seen in South Africa. South Africa is also seeing hospitalisations roughly doubling in a week, meaning we cannot yet assume that Omicron is less severe than previous variants. While the picture may get better, we know that the remorseless logic of exponential growth could lead to a big rise in hospitalisations, and therefore sadly in deaths.
That is why it is now the proportionate and responsible thing to move to Plan B in England, whilst continuing to work closely with our colleagues in the Devolved Administrations. The Government set this plan out to this House in September. It should enable us to slow the spread of the virus, buy ourselves the time to get yet more boosters in more arms, especially in older and more vulnerable people, and understand the answers to the key outstanding questions about Omicron.
From 10 December, face coverings will be required by law in most indoor public places and on public transport, including taxis. See a full list of places where you must wear a face covering.
There are some exemptions. You do not have to wear a face covering in hospitality settings such as cafés, restaurants and pubs. This is because it is not practical to keep removing face coverings to eat or drink.
You do not need to wear a face covering in nightclubs or certain other night-time venues, including dance halls and discotheques. This is because it is not recommended that you wear a face covering while exercising or during strenuous physical activity, including dancing.
Settings which are exempt from wearing a face covering include:
- Restaurants, cafés and canteens
- Bars and shisha bars
- Gyms & exercise facilities
- Photography studios
- Nightclubs, dance halls and discotheques
In indoor settings where a face covering is not legally required, you should still continue to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you may come into contact with other people you do not normally meet.
Working from home
Office workers who can work from home should do so from Monday 13 December. Anyone who cannot work from home should continue to go into work - for example, to access equipment necessary for their role or where their role must be completed in person. In-person working will be necessary in some cases to continue the effective and accessible delivery of some public services and private industries. If you need to continue to go into work, consider taking lateral flow tests regularly to manage your own risk and the risk to others.
Employers should consider whether home working is appropriate for workers facing mental or physical health difficulties, or those with a particularly challenging home working environment.
For those who attend their workplace, the Government will continue to provide up-to-date Working Safely guidance on how employers can reduce the risks in their workplace. Businesses should consider this guidance when preparing their health and safety risk assessments, and put in place suitable mitigations.
NHS Covid Pass
From 15 December, certain venues and events will be required by law to check that all visitors aged 18 years or over are fully vaccinated (currently a full course of vaccination without the need for a booster, but this will be kept under review), have proof of a negative test in the last 48 hours, or that they have an exemption.
This means that those aged 18 years or over must show their NHS COVID Pass, or an alternative proof of a negative test result, such as an email or text proof, to gain entry into these venues.
You can access your NHS COVID Pass through:
The NHS COVID Pass lets you share your COVID vaccination status and test results in a secure way for entry to domestic venues or events.
You can obtain an NHS COVID Pass two weeks after completing a full course of vaccination or with a negative test in the last 48 hours. The NHS COVID Pass can be obtained with two doses (or one of the single-dose Janssen vaccine), but we will keep this under review as boosters are rolled out. You can also obtain an NHS COVID Pass if:
- you have received a trial vaccine as part of a formally approved COVID-19 vaccine trial in the UK
- you have a medical reason that means you cannot be vaccinated, confirmed by your GP or a specialist clinician
You can also show email or text proof of your negative test result in order to gain entry to these venues.
The use of the NHS COVID Pass is required as a condition of entry into the following places:
nightclubs, dancehalls and discotheques;other late night dance venues. These are any other venues that are: open between 1am and 5am; serve alcohol during this time; have a dancefloor (or designated space for dancing); and provide music, whether live or recorded, for dancing.
- indoor events with 500 or more unseated attendees, where those attendees are likely to stand or move around for all or part of the event, such as music venues with standing audiences or large receptions;
- outdoor events with 4,000 or more unseated attendees, where those attendees are likely to stand or move around for all or part of the event, such as outdoor festivals; and
- any events with 10,000 or more attendees indoor or outdoor, such as large sports and music events
There are some settings that will be exempt from requirements to use the NHS COVID Pass including communal worship, wedding ceremonies, funerals and other commemorative events, protests, and mass participation sporting events.
Testing and isolating
Please take a lateral flow test before seeing friends and family or enetring settings where you will be mingling with those outside your household.
The full guidelines on self-isolating, who is exempt and what to do if you develop symptoms is HERE.
As Omicron spreads in the community, we will also introduce daily tests for contacts instead of isolation, so we keep people safe while minimising the disruption to daily life. We will take every step to ensure our NHS is ready for the challenges ahead. But the single biggest thing that every one of us can do, is to get our jabs and crucially to get that booster as soon as our turn arrives.